Adventure in China: Thinking Critically about the Past

I’m back in the US and the students and teachers are back in Shanghai.  Now it’s time to reflect on the experience as a whole.  First up, Mark Johnson, NHD coordinator-Asia, teacher at Concordia International School and leader of our adventure in China:

“As a History teacher, I am amazingly fortunate to have the
opportunities I have through Concordia International School Shanghai.  To travel throughout China studying 20th century history, sharing the experience with the motivated, intelligent students who have commented on Dr. Gorn’s blog already is truly a blessing.  And to have Dr. Gorn’s partnership along this trip, learning alongside the students and discussing History Day at every opportunity made this trip more special than normal.

The students were from a mix of grade levels from Freshmen to Seniors, and from a variety of nations, as their posts express.  Some of the students knew Chinese history quite well, while others were studying such topics as the Long March, the Chinese civil war, and Mao Zedong for the first time.  Their performance on the trip was simply  amazing.  They read extensively in preparation, listened to podcasts about Chinese history, and prepared to conduct oral history interviews.  While on the trip, they enthusiastically engaged with locals, discussing history and culture, participated with insight and interest at every museum and historic site we visited, and maintained an open mind about the more controversial topics we examined.

Of course our group got the official view of events presented by the museums and historic sites; and of course there is another side to the story.  What emerged is a complex story that is told differently depending on one’s national perspective.  The goal of the trip was to present the story to the students with all of its complexities, analyzing and evaluating primary and secondary sources, talking with locals about their views, and discussing the events with people who were there, like Mao’s  neighbor Mrs. Tan and Sidney Rittenberg, a man whose extensive (and fascinating) experience in China from 1945-1980 gives him special insight that helped deepen the students’ understanding.  (Editor’s note:  after returning to Shanghai, the students conducted a Skype interview with Mr. Rittenberg who experienced the Chinese  Revolution firsthand.)  Through this extensive and interactive experience, the students took in a great amount of information and used discernment and reflection to come to their own understanding of the events under examination and the legacy of Mao.

In my opinion, history education should have a dual focus of both gaining content knowledge, and (more importantly) developing critical thinking, problem solving, and synthesis skills.  Through the opportunities of last week’s study trip, students took on great intellectual challenges and impressed me with their thoughtful, insightful discernment.  It has been a pleasure to work with them throughout this process and we hope you have enjoyed reading about their experiences.”  –Mark Johnson


1 Comment

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One response to “Adventure in China: Thinking Critically about the Past

  1. NHDevotee

    Fascinating experience! The students sure are lucky and they performed well sharing their thoughts with us.

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